When Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL announced that he was going to burn a few books this year he received an avalanche of requests to blow out his match. Most of us relate book burning to the Nazis who during WWII marched through Europe burning library upon library in hope to destroy existing cultures. Heaps of smoldering books filled the cobblestone plazas while German soldiers looked on like illiterate cavemen. Certainly such a display of barbarity is not what we would expect from someone at the Dove World Outreach Center.
Yet, Terry Jones is not interested in burning classical literature or philosophical works. His flame is placed beneath only one book. This Sept. 11, on the anniversary of the twin towers crumbling down in New York, Terry invited his congregation to protest by burning Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an. Of course there are many ways to remember the victims of that terrorist attack and for most of us book burning would not be high on the list. Catholic bishops across the globe have looked down upon the “Qur’an Burning Day” commenting on how un-Christian it is. The Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, Pakistan, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference, said, "We strongly condemn this intention and this campaign, as it is contrary to the respect due to all religions, as well as contrary to our doctrine and to our faith." Others said the act was, “contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.” In my own opinion I think it would have been better to light a candle rather than light a few pages of what some consider a sacred text.
But what was more surprising was the reaction this “Qur’an Burning Day” has received. In Pakistan, the chairman of the Christian Congress said, “it could seriously harm Christian minorities in Muslim-majority countries," seeing how it will be used by radical Islamists as a pretext to attack Christians. In India, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, has already gathered several Christian and Muslim religious leaders to issue a joint statement expressing disagreement with this initiative. Bishops in Indonesia have already met with leaders of the Islamic Defense Front, a radical movement, so as underlined the mutual respect between Christians and Muslims. Several U.S. leaders have joined the Catholic Church on condemning this act. Even the U.S. General David Petraeus, commander of the troops in Afghanistan, warned that Jones' plan could endanger the soldiers under his care.
But one has to wonder why an isolated group in Florida would cause such a commotion worldwide. If instead it were the Demon World Outreach Center who was organizing a “Bible Burning Day” few people would give notice. At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI spoke strongly about the violent aspects of Islam and its need to change. The following day large puppets in papal garb were being burned all throughout the Middle East. There was no fear that this act would destroy Muslim Christian relations because frankly, Christians have already forgiven them. No generals showed concern for their soldiers and few people were worried about a suicidal bombing nun who might seek revenge on behalf of her Church.
Reactions to this “Qur’an Burning Day” is just another sign that Pope Benedict was right in his analysis of Islam. From making death threats to a cartoonist in Denmark to around 30 Churches being attacked or burned down in Indonesia within one year, one has to wonder if Islam is as peaceful as President Obama keeps telling us. Yes, there are peace-making Muslims. But there are also radical violent Muslims. The same cannot be said about Christians.
Though I do not wish to applaud Terry Jones for his book burning initiative, it is interesting to see the effects his little fire has had. As Christians around the globe strive to live peacefully with Muslims, I hope and pray that the Muslims do the same.
Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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